"A Right Is Something That you Earn."

Months ago, my birthmother, Deborah visited me in Seattle. It was a tough visit. Deborah had a health scare that led us to the emergency room which triggered me to a deep fear of experiencing yet another abandonment. She felt a great amount of shame for altering the plans of the trip, for which she had wanted to go just as planned. It seems that I may've found one strong character trait that both Deborah and I share - the strong desire for our visits to be nothing short of perfect.

In addition to falling short of the illusive "perfect visit," we expelled a great deal of emotional energy discussing difficult, precarious topics for which I decided it was the time to be unrelenting in my questioning. In the video posted below, I had asked Deborah why she didn't write me back after I'd provided my home address and had begged for her to contact me this way.

“I don’t have a right. There’s no rights for me! A right is something that you earn. You earn that. You work hard for that!” 
— My birthmother

Her response still leaves me wretched. Her truths and honesty leads me to think about so many other birth parents who also may never truly feel that they have the right to speak with their own children after choosing adoption. 

Trauma Comparisons - Please Stop.

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I recently was consulting with a family, who stated; "I'd like your advice on how to tell our child about their history, because I know you advocate for full transparency and we want to honor that. However, my child's story is quite a bit more traumatic than yours. I mean, you were adopted really young - 1 year old, right? And you had a really wonderful, loving foster home, correct? Well, my child was adopted at 3, and they'd already been through quite a bit..."

Over the years, I've heard countless different forms of comparing ones adoption-related trauma to someone else's for the sake of establishing credit for the choice to withhold information. When conducting trainings, there is typically a module where I discuss the dangers of secrecy, in tandem with the need for adoptees to know their full story. Invariably, someone in the class will say; "My child was conceived through incest. I really don't want them to know about this. They'd be devastated." Then someone else will volley back, stating "Johnny's birthmom drowned his biological sibling, I've been turning off the 5 o' clock news so that he doesn't hear about this. This would just destroy him." At a recent training, this back and forth ended with one parent reluctantly stating; "I haven't yet told my child that their biological mother struggled with the idea of whether or not to place them for adoption or keep them. But now I think I could tell her, I mean, it's not as traumatic as these other stories!" It's as if she felt like she was caught and needed to admit her guilt. 

The problem with this mentality is that in reality, no one is fighting the same war. Where everyone in life has battle scars, and some might be worse than others, there is nothing that makes one persons scars any more significant than another.
— Tim Mousseau

I am completely unwilling to rank any adoption trauma as worse than, the most terrible story I've ever heard, more difficult than, easier than, simple and straightforward or any other adjective that places someone along the fictitious trauma spectrum. For me to engage in this way would be unethical, irresponsible and unfair to the child (and the abuser). Trauma is and belongs to the experiencer, and we are in no place to judge how difficult or not it may be for the child to assimilate these facets of their story.  The bottom line is, it's the child's story to know, and the question should never be whether or not to tell the child, but rather, how. There is absolutely no point in trying to one-up someone else on the invisible trauma-scale, as such a scale does not exist.

An adoptive parent is often privy to information about their child before the child. It is their responsibility to dispense this information in an age appropriate manner as early as possible. Seeking the assistance from a professional is a great choice, because sometimes the difficulty is not actually the story itself, but rather the parent's comfort around the topic. Perhaps its the parent who is distraught to know that their child was conceived through sexual assualt. If that's the case, that is an issue we can work through! There are many qualified folks who would be pleased to help parents assimilate the sad truths about their child's life. 

However, comparing ones trauma to another is like comparing apples to oranges. There is simply no point. Please stop. 

My G-Mama Died. I Don't Know How I Feel.

I last saw G-Mama one year ago in Chattanooga, TN. She is so lovely. 

I last saw G-Mama one year ago in Chattanooga, TN. She is so lovely. 

One week ago, I learned the news of G-Mama, my biological grandmother's passing. I met her for the first time just 5 years ago. In fact, G-Mama was the first biological family member that I ever met. 

Since posting this news on Facebook, I've received numerous well-wishes, including some private messages that alluded to the complexity of feeling that I may be experiencing given her unique role in my life. They empathically say; "I can only imagine how you must be feeling right now." Instead, of responding with the colloquial "Thank you," I'd like to respond by saying "It's hard for me to imagine, too!" 

My path to meet G-Mama and the rest of my biological family was such a roller coaster. There were so many unforeseen twists and turns that once I was finally wholly accepted in to the family I could no longer recognize the ways in which the roller coaster was not yet over. Instead, I have continued along this ride with a joyful contentment - simply ecstatic to know my roots. In all honesty, I felt a sense of confusion when those around me were yelling to "slow down," screamed with delight, had to exit the ride or experienced debilitating sickness from all of the commotion. Strangely enough I have not felt any whiplash or dizziness throughout this time. My ride on this roller-coaster has been one of contented bliss. 

With the death of the first biological family member that I have had the privilege of knowing, I suddenly feel as though I am free-falling and all is silent around me. It's quiet. Not necessarily sad, just quiet. Is that what numbness feels like? 

I like to think of my brain as a pretty clever little machine. With this in mind, I like to give it the benefit of the doubt and surmise that it knows that this is too much to bear at this time, and thus is helping me remain able to work, play and go about my daily life. However, I can't help but wonder what forces are at play that may make grieving this loss too much to absorb. Why is my brain protecting me from feeling right now? 

 

Can Black Folks Revamp the Foster-Care System With Their Collectivist Ideals?

Over the past five years, I've spoken to hundreds of folks about foster-care and adoption all over the United States. I've managed a caseload of prospective families, met with individuals in-person, via Skype, dined with curious citizens, but I'd never been in a room of black prospective foster-parents who were eager to discuss the disproportionality of black kids in foster-care and the lack of licensed black homes. Such was the case on Saturday morning for a groundbreaking event hosted by the Northwest African-American Museum and Amara.

While aware of statistics pointing to black families choosing to informally adopt members of their extended family, I was curious to learn what Seattle's black community thought about black kids who were not informally taken in by any extended family members. What did they think about the rate at which those kiddos are being placed with white families? I wondered what thoughts they had about the formation of trans-racial families and the subsequent gentrification of what were our predominantly black neighborhoods. I braced myself for tense conversations, and prepared my ears to hear terms such as "stealing," or "white-saviorism."  I was also prepared for the invariable; "I just don't think my heart could handle being a foster-parent," or "how do we get a young child who hasn't had very much trauma?" I was ready to employ calming techniques in order to appropriately respond to questions in productive and informative ways. To my utter amazement, these questions and sentiments never came. 

Instead, folks wiped tears from their eyes after viewing a few clips from Closure, then the audience sat with rapt attention listening to the panelists share personal experiences as foster-parents and child welfare professionals. When the floor opened up for questions, I took a deep breath in anticipation of the questions I'd heard so many times before, but was instead met with the question "what happens to our children when they age out of the system?" Another person waved their hand stating "I'm old, and am not able to get my house licensed to house our kids, but I can be someones auntie!" Small group discussions formed all around the room, engaging in brainstorming sessions around ways to care for our black kids in the community who do not have a permanent family.

As the small groups conversed, I took a pulse of my heart-rate and my body. I rifled through the rolodex of emotions typically felt during my public speaking engagements to try to assign a label to my feelings. Eventually, I realized that this event was unlike the others that I'd been a part of, and thus none of my usual emotions accurately reflected that moment. I only knew for certain that this space felt safe, warm and inviting. Evidence of my comfort came as I found myself disclosing that I was mortified that my mom told my birthmom that I'd seen The Sound of Music hundreds of times (to which my birthmother replied "I've never seen it!"). While overwhelmed to be in the presence of my birthmother for the first time in my life, I was silently screaming; "MOM! Why would you share such a white thing with my black birthmom!?!" A couple members of the audience approached me afterwards singing "The hills are alive!" and confessing that they, too, enjoyed that movie, but didn't want others to know, out of fear of not being black enough. What a relief! 

Historically, black folks haven't had the privilege of self-sufficiency, and have had to rely on each other in order to remain - characteristics like being self-sacrificing, dependable, generous, and helpful to others are of the utmost importance importance, slightly resembling a collectivist culture. Individualistic cultures tend to focus inward and value independence, and self-reliance. In fact, depending on others might be viewed as shameful. The stark contrast between collectivism (let's do what's best for society!) vs, individualism (doing what's best for me) with regards to foster-parenting in these communities is something for which I'm continuing to process. 

Due to high demand, another similar event is already being planned by Amara!

Northwest African-American Museum + Amara event flyer

Northwest African-American Museum + Amara event flyer